Co-working space for biotech start-ups in Singapore will launch next month

NSG BioLabs founder Daphne Teo decided to set up the premises after the biotech company she co-founded struggled to find a space to operate in. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
NSG BioLabs founder Daphne Teo decided to set up the premises after the biotech company she co-founded struggled to find a space to operate in. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

With pastel-coloured walls, neon decorations and plush sofas, a co-working space in Biopolis can be mistaken for a cafe or a blogshop's retail outlet.

But NSG BioLabs, fitted with a sterile lab and high-tech equipment, is a 15,000 sq ft co-working space for biotech start-ups. To be launched next month, it looks set to play host to some of the nation's brightest minds.

Its founder, 36-year-old Daphne Teo, decided to set up the premises after the biotech company she co-founded struggled to find a space to operate in.

"It was very hard to find good lab space in Singapore. We had already raised quite a large sum of money but weren't at the point where we should be spending millions on a lab space," she said.

Her company, Engine Biosciences, which was operating at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's premises, had grown too large to continue there.

So around May, she began developing NSG BioLabs, with support from Enterprise Singapore and United States-based group Nest.Bio.

Ms Teo noted that Singapore has no privately owned co-working spaces for biotech start-ups.

"Researchers who can't find a space can't validate their technology, and if they can't validate their technology, no investor will invest in them," she said.

The facility will be an incubator for small biotech start-ups, ranging from those with just one to two researchers to those with 20 to 30 people. It has 120 desks, 96 lab benches, eight office suites and six meeting rooms. A desk can be rented for about $500 a month while a lab bench, where two scientists can work at a time, goes for about $2,500 a month.

Companies will also have access to a wide array of lab equipment, including microscopes, autoclaves and centrifuges.

Ms Teo said the equipment will give start-ups the flexibility to grow or adjust their size without having to invest substantially in equipment and infrastructure.

As an incubator, NSG BioLabs will also provide funding and advice to start-ups in areas such as pitching, fund-raising and going commercial.

Ms Teo is aware of the risks of contamination, theft and sabotage in a shared space. To reduce it, each company's researchers will have their own lab bench that they will not share with others. As the tenants are trained researchers, they will follow standard lab protocols to avoid contamination, she added.

NSG BioLabs will also inform existing tenants of newcomers and those who are direct competitors will be rejected.

But the current tenants, Engine Biosciences, Immunoscape and Acumen Research Laboratories, have even found ways to collaborate, she said. "Our goal is to build a biotech ecosystem for Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2019, with the headline 'Co-working space for biotech start-ups in S'pore to be launched next month'. Print Edition | Subscribe